Arming Teachers Is a Dangerous Proposal

August 15, 2018

Schools are meant to be places of sanctuary, safety, and learning for children. But, as the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, shows, children are also victims of America’s gun violence crisis, even while attending school.

After shootings like Parkland, and as a way to further their “guns everywhere” agenda, the NRA takes every opportunity to push for policies that would arm teachers. There is no evidence that arming teachers will protect children in schools. To the contrary, research indicates that arming teachers will make children less safe.

This is why school safety experts—including teachers, school resource officers, and law enforcement organizations—oppose the policy. If lawmakers want to prevent school shootings, they must adopt proactive, commonsense solutions to prevent people with dangerous histories from obtaining guns in the first place.

Arming teachers ignores research that shows the presence of a gun increases the risks posed to children.

  • As with their parents’ firearms, students may be aware of where and how teachers keep their firearms, and how to obtain access. A recent study shows that the majority of children are aware of where their parents store their guns, and more than one third reported handling their parents’ guns—40 percent of them doing so without the knowledge of their parents.Baxley, F., & Miller, M. Parental misperceptions about children and firearms. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2006; 160(5), 542-547.
  • Access to a firearm, irrespective of age, triples the risk of death by suicide and doubles the risk of death by homicide.Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The Accessibility of Firearms and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization Among Household Members: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014; 160: 101–110. And the vast majority of fatal unintentional shootings of children are self-inflicted, or are by other children and involve an unsecured gun found in their own home.Hemenway, D., & Solnick, S. J. Children and unintentional firearm death. Injury epidemiology. 2015; 2(1), 26. Fowler, KA, Dahlberg LL, Haileyesus T, Gutierrez C, Bacon S. Childhood Firearm Injuries in the United States. Pediatrics. 2017; 140(1). Everytown for Gun Safety. Not An Accident Index. Available at https://everytownresearch.org/notanaccident/.
  • Easy availability of firearms play a fatal role in child firearm suicides—in over 80 percent of youth gun suicides, the child used a gun belonging to a family member.Johnson RM, Barber C, Azrael D, Clark DE, Hemenway D. Who are the owners of firearms used in adolescent suicides? Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 2010; 40(6): 609-611.
  • This body of research showing the increased risks to children posed by the presence of a gun suggests that introducing guns in schools would have similar tragic consequences.

America’s teachers, school safety experts, and law enforcement oppose arming teachers.

  • The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the nation’s two largest organizations of education professionals, oppose allowing guns in schools, a position they reiterated after the Parkland shooting.“AFT, NEA: Arming Teachers Won’t Keep Schools Safe, Dec. 20, 2012. Available at: http://www.nea.org/home/53943.htm. The Presidents of the AFT and NEA have consistently rejected calls to arm teachers:

“Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees. Lawmakers at every level of government should dismiss this dangerous idea and instead focus on measures that will create the safe and supportive learning environments our children deserve.”Id.

  • A national guide published by the federal government’s chief legal, law enforcement, public health, education, and emergency management agencies cautioned that allowing civilians to carry guns in schools is not a sound security practice.U.S. Department of Education, et.al, “Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans, 2012, available at: http://rems.ed.gov/docs/REMS_k-12_Guide_508.pdf.
  • The National Association of School Resource Officers strongly opposes the proposal to arm teachers due to the risk it would pose to law enforcement, students, and the school community, as well as the risks to the armed teachers themselves.NASRO, “NASRO Opposes Arming Teachers,” February 22, 2018. Available here: https://nasro.org/news/press-releases/nasro-opposes-arming-teachers/
  • The President and Executive Director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents 75 police forces from large cities in the USA and Canada, both agree that arming teachers is “not a good idea”Toppo, G, “132 hours to train teachers on guns: Is it enough?,” USA Today, March 8, 2018. Available here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/03/08/132-hours-train-teachers-guns-enough/408525002/ and say, “The more guns that are coming into the equation, the more volatility and the more risk there is of somebody getting hurt.”Patterson, B. “America’s Police Chiefs Call BS on Arming Teachers,” Mother Jones, March 8, 2018. Available here:https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/03/police-chiefs-call-bullshit-on-arming-teachers-sandy-hook-parkland-columbine/

The NRA claims arming teachers will stop “active shooters” during a school shooting. But arming civilians is not an effective way to stop active shooters.

  • The FBI found that in 250 active shooter incidents, there were only seven successful armed civilian interventions. In contrast, unarmed civilians successfully intervened in 22 incidents.Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT), Center at Texas State University and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 2018. Available at: https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-incidents-us-2016-2017.pdf/view. Also see: Active Shooter Incidents in the United States from 2000-2017, available at https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-incidents-2000-2017.pdf/view
  • Research casts significant doubt on the idea that civilians can shoot as well as trained police officers in active shooter situations.White MD. Hitting the target (or not): Comparing characteristics of fatal, injurious, and noninjurious police shootings. Police Quarterly. 2006;9(3):303–330.; Nieuwenhuys A, Oudejans R. Effects of anxiety on handgun shooting behavior of police officers: A pilot study. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping. 2009;23(2):225–33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19462309.

In fact, armed civilians have put law enforcement in danger, delayed law enforcement responses, and posed a risk to innocent bystanders during active shooter crises.

  • Following the shooting of 12 police officers at a demonstration where dozens of open carry activists were present, then-Dallas police chief David Brown said, “We don’t know who the good guy is versus the bad guy when everyone starts shooting.”AP News, “Friend or foe? Open-carry law poses challenge to police,” July 11, 2016, available at: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/45f4d45b5f874c82a64228aa2ba95639/friend-or-foe-open-carry-law-poses-challenge-police. See also The Texas Tribune, “After Dallas Ambush, Texas Police to Push for Open Carry Changes, Funding,” July 23, 2016. Available at:https://www.texastribune.org/2016/07/23/texas-law-enforcement-groups-brace-gun-funding-leg/.
  • When a man shot and killed three people at a Walmart in Thornton, Colorado, law enforcement noted that shoppers drawing weapons in self-defense “absolutely” slowed the process of identifying the suspect.The Denver Post, “Shoppers pulled guns in response to Thornton Walmart shooting, but police say that slowed investigation,” November 2, 2017. Available at: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/11/02/shoppers-pulled-weapons-walmart-shooting/.
  • When Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot and injured in Tucson, Arizona, an armed civilian came very close to firing at the unarmed civilian who disarmed the shooter.Slate, “Gabrielle Giffords and the perils of guns: How an armed hero nearly shot the wrong man,” January 11, 2011 http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2011/01/friendly_firearms.html

Arming teachers would burden schools with large new costs for insurance and security.

The best way to protect American children and schools from shootings such as the incident in Parkland, Florida, is to pass comprehensive gun safety laws that can prevent people with dangerous histories from ever getting a gun, some examples of which include:

  • Background checks on all gun sales: The foundation of any comprehensive gun violence prevention strategy must be background checks for all gun sales. Under current federal law, criminal background checks are only required for sales conducted by licensed dealers. This loophole is easy to exploit, and makes it easy for convicted felons or domestic abusers to acquire guns without a background check simply by finding an unlicensed seller online or at a gun show. When Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks for all handgun sales, the state saw a 40 percent reduction in gun homicides and a 15 percent reduction in gun suicides.Crifasi CK., Meyers JS, Vernick JS, & Webster DW. 2015. Effects of changes in permit-to-purchase handgun laws in Connecticut and Missouri on suicide rates. Preventive Medicine. 2015(79):43–49. 97 percent of voters support legislation to require criminal background checks on every gun sale.Quinnipiac University National Poll, “U.S. Support For Gun Control Tops 2-1, Highest Ever, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Let Dreamers Stay, 80 Percent Of Voters Say.” February 20,2018. Available at: https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2521.
  • Red Flag Laws: This policy, increasingly being adopted by states, empowers family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily block a person from having guns if they pose a danger to themselves or others. If Florida had a red flag law, the shooter’s mother or police could have asked a judge to order a temporary removal of his guns. Red flag laws—also known as Extreme Risk Protective Orders (ERPO)—can help prevent suicide too. That is meaningful because suicide makes up nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in this country.Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fatal Injury Reports." Injury Prevention & Control: Data & Statistics (WISQARS), accessed December 23, 2017. Available at: http://1.usa.gov/1qo12RL. Since Connecticut passed a red flag law, researchers estimate that it has already saved more than 70 lives from suicide.Swanson JW, Norko M, Lin H, Alanis-Hirsch K, Frisman L, Baranoski M, Easter M, Robertson AG, Swartz M, and Bonnie RJ. Implementation and effectiveness of Connecticut’s risk-based gun removal law: does it prevent suicides? Law and Contemporary Problems. 2017; 80: 179-208. Red flag bills have been introduced or carried over in 25 states and D.C. this year.AK, AL, AZ, DE, FL, HI, IA, IL, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, NC, NJ, NY, PA, RI, TN, UT, VA, VT, DC.
  • Keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers: The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed.Campbell JC, Webster DW, Koziol-McLain J, et al. (2003). Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: Results from a multisite case control study. American Journal of Public Health. 2003; 93(7):1089-1097. And most mass shootings are connected to domestic and family violence.Everytown for Gun Safety, “Mass Shootings in the United Sates: 2009-2016.” April 11, 2017. Available at: https://everytownresearch.org/reports/mass-shootings-analysis/. Mass shootings significantly impact children: over 40 percent of fatalities in domestic or family violence related mass shootings were children.Everytown for Gun Safety. (2017). Mass Shootings in the United States: 2009-2016", available at https://everytownresearch.org/reports/mass-shootings-analysis/ Analysis based on mass shootings where four or more people were shot and killed, excluding the shooter, between 2009 & 2016. When abusers are convicted of domestic violence or subject to final restraining orders, they should be blocked from purchasing guns, and required to turn in those they already own. We also need to close the “boyfriend loophole”—by making sure those laws apply to abusers regardless of whether the violence is directed towards a spouse or a dating partner.
  • Raise the minimum age to 21 years old for the purchase of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns—so that it matches the minimum purchase age for handguns: Because he was under the age of 21, the Parkland shooter could not have gone into a gun store and bought a handgun, but he legally bought an AR-15. Eighteen to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at a rate nearly four times higher than adults 21 and older.Everytown for Gun Safety analysis; FBI Supplementary Homicide Report, 2010-2014, and US Census Population Data, 2010-2014. Persons aged 18-20 made up 4.24% of the US population and were the primary offender in 17.16% of all gun homicides for which the age of the offender was known. Adults aged 21 and over made up 72.25% of the population and were the primary offender in 76.24% of all gun homicides for which the age of the offender was known.